When The Pitch started giving annual grants to the metro's cultural innovators, back in 2006, we called our awards the MasterMinds. To honor these artists and style gurus and deep thinkers, we put on an event named Artopia. Each April since then, our party has gotten bigger and better, so this year we're renaming the award after it.
That doesn't make 2012's four Artopia recipients any less masterly. These deserving individuals and groups have influenced the city's cultural and creative landscape and have made lasting contributions, and we think they stand with the award's most enduring alumni. Each picks up a check for $750 — no strings attached.
Artopia — the award and the party — is our way of saying thanks and encouraging winners (present and past) to keep surprising us. We'll hand out the checks during the night of fashion, music, performance and food: Saturday, April 14, at the Screenland (1656 Washington). It starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets cost $30 at the door; call 816-561-6061 for details.
Judith G. Levy
How many times have you sworn that you remembered doing something, only to find out that the vision in your head was an inaccurate reconstruction? Memory plays tricks, forging recalled conversations, fudging childhood scenes that turn out to be based on stories told by your parents. Sometimes you can't even trust the documentation.
But you can trust artist Judith G. Levy. Maybe.
Levy investigates the way memories and histories intersect, using a variety of visual media. "It's about public and private, about memory and history, and I try to create something that can actually be experienced," she says.
Levy studied drawing and painting at Hunter College, and her exhibition and performance history dates back 15 years. It's only in the past six years that she has been a full-time artist. (Her "pay the bills" career was as a public mental-health administrator.) She's a recent alumna of an ArtsKC "Artist, INC" course, and she commutes from Lawrence to her Crossroads District studio several times a week.
In her artwork, Levy creates new parallel universes: places, family histories and accompanying narratives. Her three deeply built tales in The Last Descendants, last fall at Paragraph Gallery, used video interviews (all deliciously scripted to seem absolutely spontaneous and genuine); detailed family trees that filled entire walls with names and dates, and even photographs (demonstrating hours of research and a novelist's imagination); as well as "artifacts" to complete our suspension of disbelief.
"Manipulation is part of creating something," says Levy, who wants to draw people into her work first with a visual appeal (fueled by her precise attention to technical detail) and then — after a viewer realizes that something's not quite right — by forcing the question "Why?"
One memorable example: her series Panoramic Postcards, created for installation in the windows of City Center Square downtown in 2010 and commissioned by the Charlotte Street Foundation. The Sintra-mounted prints are traditional white-border cards, sized for a giant in a fairy tale, but the stories they tell about American history and place are as made up as our mythology about George Washington's cherry tree. They are also just as true.
And they're extremely convincing, due in part to Levy's painstaking digital manipulation. She has pieced together dozens of found cards, culled from hours of hunting in antique stores.
Levy recalls a woman whose response to one of the cards, "Premonition Point, Ozark, Calif.," was the conviction that she had once visited that very spot. In the picture, a woman standing in a dense and colorful bed of flowers gazes at a Missouri riverboat full of passengers — in California.